Have you ever wondered what it’s like to lose your sight? How you might adapt? How your focus might narrow? How your other senses might compensate? These were the thoughts running through the musical mind of Tel Aviv’s own Dov Rosen when founding the Blind Orchestra – a collective of musicians who play entire shows blindfolded, forcing them to tap into their sense of hearing and touch as they come together to play what Rosen coins “orchestrated improv.”
With an album on the horizon, Rosen sat down with The Jerusalem Post to discuss conducting, communication and the craziest thing to ever happen on stage.
How did you come up with this concept?
Four years ago I had an art exhibition in Tel Aviv and decided to put on a show that represented the way I create art in a musical way. That’s when the idea was put into effect.
It was my way of representing the art-making process in a controlled manner, while also including elements of surprise.Which came first? Art or music?
Obviously, as a child the first thing you do is paint because you’re handed crayons the moment you enter kindergarten. My uncle and grandfather are both painters so they gave me a lot of street wisdom, but I never studied art formally. I started playing instruments when I was 11, and I’m a lot busier with music now, from founding and drumming in theAngelcy to many other projects and now this collective. That exhibition where the Blind Orchestra was born was my last art exhibition.
It was when I put art aside and decided to focus on my music.
And what exactly is the Blind Orchestra?
The Blind Orchestra isn’t simply a band name, rather a game used to improvise music. It becomes a container for whatever you put into it.
It’s like a bowl of fruit, if you throw in apples and oranges it will taste different than grapes and watermelon.
Tell me a little about the system on stage?
Basically, it’s quite simple. First of all, everyone except for the conductor is blindfolded. When the conductor touches a musician, they start. When he touches them again, they stop. A series of taps on the foot instructs the rhythm section to speed up. We have developed that into what I call “shine mode” where three musicians take turns being the bandleader at every show.
Each conductor brings something else out of the band.What do you gain personally from conducting?
Well, I’m only a conductor for a third of the show; the other two thirds I’m a musician. It’s not only my game, it’s a game that everyone is invited to play. Actually, for me personally, I prefer to start the show at the [drum] kit because it really clears my mind. I’m also the producer of the entire collective so it’s the best way for me to focus on the music, forget about the cameraman and just get into my trance with the other musicians.What do you believe the blindfolds accomplish?
It enables the musicians to dive into the world of music, the world of sound. It isolates them; whatever energy is typically put into observing one another goes into hearing and to other senses like feeling the instruments, which gives them a lot of focus and helps them connect to themselves and the outside world.Where do you find your musicians?
Wherever I go. I’m constantly on the move. Right now, we’re operating in seven cities around Europe and Asia. When I’m abroad, I take a handful of local musicians and their friends, then throw other recommended improvisers into the mix. It’s quite easy to acquire musicians to be honest. Most are very curious about the concept and are eager to try it for themselves.
Are there any permanent band members?
Nobody is really a “band member,” the Blind Orchestra is a collective made up of about eight to 11 rotating musicians. We’ve never had the same show twice. Each group of musicians brings a beautiful versatility and a new energy to the group dynamic. It’s refreshing.
What sorts of musical genres or styles have emerged during live performances?
In Delhi we performed in a very jazzy place, so the music was naturally very jazzy, for example. In London, Afro bands are very popular, as are gypsy and Balkan influences, which all came out on stage.
The Tel Aviv crew has a personality of their own. Of course as the conductor I have some influence over the music, but in those initial moments of complete silence, after I cue in the first musician, he will go wherever he wants and the rest of the band will follow his lead...
it’s a jam session after all.
What’s the craziest thing to happen on stage?
We once asked a noisy London bar full of drunk, rowdy people for absolute silence. I was surprised when they actually closed their mouths and opened their ears to the music... and the song that came as a result was the highlight of the night. It was such a unique experience.
I was so impressed that it actually worked.Have you ever thought of blindfolding the audience?
We’ve tried something similar – we sometimes recommend that the audience members close their eyes.
When your eyes are closed you’re able to get into the musicians’ experience, but I think the most interesting element of a Blind Orchestra performance is being able to watch the conductor and put yourself in their shoes. There is this curiosity when watching the show, everyone is eager to see what will happen next. Without sight you miss out on that aspect.
Are you excited for your upcoming show at the Hoodna bar?
Yes! We really love the unique vibe and sense of togetherness with the audience there. They are all so hospitable; it’s such an honor to be able to play in a place we call home.
I’ve heard rumors about an album release.
You heard correctly. There’s an album on the way: The Best of the Blind Orchestra Live. The album will include live material mainly from performances in India and Israel.
Any other creative projects in the making?
As I said, the Blind Orchestra is a container so you can pour into it whatever beverage you like. If we find a weekly home, I can play around – one show could be more bass-heavy, another might call for a groovier feel. Anything is possible.Any advice you can offer young, out-of-the-box thinkers?
I believe that my experience proves that if you give even the weirdest of ideas a chance, you might get much better reactions than you expected. I believe in risk taking. It’s only once you take that risk that you can discover something amazing. When the Blind Orchestra first took off, I didn’t even think I could get three musicians onboard, let alone 11.
And look at us now! I threw my passion into this project and I see the payoff in every one of the 40-odd shows we’ve performed so far, and hopefully 40 more to come.The Blind Orchestra performs at Tel Aviv’s Hoodna bar tonight at 8:30 p.m. Follow the band at blindorchestra.com.